What to expect from Alek Manoah

May 26th, 2021

With the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees bunched at the top of the division, the Blue Jays are turning to their Minor League big guns to stay in the American League East race.

Toronto is calling up to start Thursday against the Yankees in New York. The start in the Bronx will mark the Major League debut for MLB Pipeline's No. 97 overall prospect. But it isn’t the first aggressive move the Jays have made with the 2019 11th overall pick.

Having missed out on his first full season due to the canceled 2020 Minor League season, Manoah opened 2021 – ostensibly his first full professional season -- with Triple-A Buffalo and responded to the assignment like a veteran. The 6-foot-6 right-hander posted a 0.50 ERA with 27 strikeouts and only three walks in three starts (18 innings) with the Bisons. He worked exactly six frames in each of those outings, a rarity in the early Minor League season when pitchers typically ease their way into the campaign. Manoah's ERA, 40.9 percent strikeout rate and 0.56 WHIP are tops among the 56 qualified Triple-A pitchers, while his 9.0 K/BB ratio places second among that group. That came off an impressive Grapefruit League camp in the spring in which he fanned 15 while allowing only one hit and three walks over seven scoreless innings.

Taken as an entire picture, Manoah’s pre- and regular-season performances prompted the Jays to bring him to the Majors despite his relative inexperience -- only 35 professional innings dating back to his Draft year.

Beyond the results, the stuff has been there to justify the early bump to The Show. Manoah typically sits at 92-96 mph with his fastball and touched as high as 97.8 with the heater in shorter stints this spring. The slider earns above-average grades because of its late movement, and it’s a decent enough pitch to work against both right-handed and left-handed batters. To wit, lefties went only 4-for-26 (.154) with nine strikeouts against Manoah at Triple-A prior to the promotion.

The changeup has needed the most improvement since Manoah’s early college days at West Virginia, but the Blue Jays believe it rounded into solid-enough form (thanks to its depth) to be the viable third pitch needed to keep him in a starting role.

Measuring in at 6-foot-6, 260 pounds, Manoah has shown an ability to throw strikes consistently in the pro game – not something always said about pitchers his size. He throws exclusively out of the stretch as well, keeping him in line with the plate and limiting the movement on his delivery.

The Jays are calling Manoah up to be a starter, and it’s hard to blame them given his run of success in that role in Triple-A East and the club’s need for mound help. Hyun Jin Ryu and Robbie Ray have been the club’s most solid starters, while Steven Matz, Ross Stripling and others have shown signs of inconsistency at best and struggled at worst. Even top prospect Nate Pearson looked mightily off with his control in his return to the Majors following a groin injury that sidelined him out of the gate this spring.

The changeup could be the deciding factor in how well Manoah takes to the Toronto rotation on Wednesday and beyond, but a starting vs. bullpen debate is nothing new for the Miami native. Manoah started and relieved as a freshman and sophomore at West Virginia before breaking out in the former role in the Cape Cod League in the summer of 2018. While there, he led Cape pitchers with 48 strikeouts in only 33 1/3 frames. When he returned to campus in the spring of 2019, he continued his ascent up Draft boards by posting a 2.08 ERA with 144 punchouts and only 27 walks in 108 1/3 innings as a junior. The Blue Jays took Manoah with the 11th overall pick that June, making him the second pitcher off the board behind only Nick Lodolo, who went seventh to the Reds.

With his first pitch Wednesday, Manoah will become the first hurler from the 2019 Draft class to reach the Majors. White Sox rookie Andrew Vaughn was the only other pick that year to beat him to the game’s top level.